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{You can read the entire story as I write it here; I’ll add a chapter each week, after I post to Instagram.}

Jude remembered the exact moment he knew he didn’t like Eden Ellis.

It was summer, the air just above the flat black of the driveway shimmering with heat. The kind that made their freshly-turned teenage bodies break out in sweat, sticky spots that sprung up under arms and on the crests of foreheads and got darker and dirtier the longer they played outside.

Jude and Eden were at Noah’s house, waiting for him to grab swim trunks.

Their morning had been identical to the forty or so before. Almost half-way through summer break, the friends knew how to work the day just right.

Shorts and sneakers on first thing, they’d meet at the school’s soccer field when the sun was still cooking the haze off the grass. They’d slip and slide through the dew, more slivers of green sticking to the ball after every kick.

They would run. The three of them. Up and down the field, kicking, dodging each other, longer but still uncertain legs getting tangled, their feet protesting the shoes they’d outgrown but refused to give up.

Noah was quick. Could outpace them both, if he really wanted. But he preferred to watch and wait for the perfect opening, the moment he could dive between them and free the ball with a well-aimed kick.

Eden was fast, but her legs hadn’t grown as long theirs. No matter how hard she sprinted, Jude and Noah could outstrip her with their galloping paces. So she learned another way. She was scrappy. Never shy, never afraid to throw herself between a much bigger boy and the ball.

And Jude. He just wanted to move as fast as possible, to fling himself into orbit. It was the feeling of flying he craved, the knowledge that his legs could carry him as far away as he’d let them.

They pounded that grass for as long as their stomachs could hold out. When, doubled over, wiping sweat from their eyes, the groans of hunger grew louder than their grunts over the ball, they’d stop.

Mr. Mitchum’s diner was only a few blocks away. The slightly soggy bills in their pockets would be enough for three burgers and one giant ice cream sundae. Three scoops. Always the same flavors.

Chocolate-peanut butter swirl for Eden.

Vanilla for Noah. He’d always been a purist.

Strawberry for Jude. He’d been a little self-conscious about the bright pink color the first time. But that feeling vanished the second the first bite hit his tongue. Bright, fruity. It tasted like summer. Like freedom.

After lunch they went to the lake. Every day. Even if it was raining. They’d strip down to their underwear and jump into the cool, still water and wash away the morning.

But on that particular day, Noah had decided he didn’t want to go swimming in his boxers.

So Jude and Eden waited outside his house while he changed, swatting at the occasional mosquito drawn to their slick body heat.

“Did you get hit?” Jude pointed at a bruise building on Eden’s upper chest.

She glanced down. “Not hard.”

Jude shrugged, an angsty teenage move he’d picked up at the end of the school year. Like he’d heard her, but didn’t care enough to answer out loud. If the bruise didn’t bother Eden, it wouldn’t bother him.

Except it did.

The entire way to the lake he wondered if he’d crashed into her too hard on that last attempt to get the ball. Or if Noah had elbowed her by mistake. He wondered how much it hurt.

By the time they were stripping off their clothes, Jude realized he was anxious. He wanted to ask her again, just to make sure she was okay. That she wasn’t in pain.

Noah was already in the water, sure strokes taking him further away from the shore. Jude tossed his clothes on a near-by rock and was about to jump in when Eden turned. Her underwear wasn’t more revealing than a bikini. Less so, Jude knew, blushing slightly when he thought of the well-worn magazines stuffed behind his dresser. It wasn’t her clothing – or lack there of – that made it hurt to breathe.

It was the dark bluish-purple pattern that had spread across to the middle of her chest and down into her modest cleavage, below the line of her sports bra.

Eden twisted, dropping her shirt to the ground, and winced. She wasn’t going to say anything, but it was obvious she was hurt.

She looked up at him, caught him watching her. Staring.

“You coming?” She waved at the water.

Jude thought he nodded. He wasn’t sure.

The one thing he was sure about was that he wanted to touch her. He wanted to sooth her bruised skin with his fingers, to press his palm to her chest to help ease some of the pain. To take a little bit of it into himself.

He wanted to place his lips there. Not a casual peck like his mom still tried to give when he came home banged up. No, something longer. Something that would tell her it would be alright, that she’d be ok. That he’d always be there to help make it better.

Jude was a teenage boy. He knew what it was when his dick jumped and his hand itched to stroke it. He’d felt that persistent prick of horniness almost every minute of every day for the past year.

This – whatever this was – wasn’t that.

It was rougher, deeper, and hit him up-side the head so fast Jude felt his knees buckle and his stomach curdle around the overdose of ice cream.

That hot summer’s day in the cool shade of the town’s lake was the day Jude realized he didn’t just like Eden Ellis. It was also the day he realized that whatever he did feel was absolutely fucking terrifying.

***

Jude had stopped thinking the second he’d pressed Eden against the door.

He’d lost his mind. It was the only explanation. He’d never thought he’d feel her, not like this. In all the time he’d wanted Eden, Jude had never given himself permission to believe that he’d actually have her.

Yet there she was. Securely wedged between him and his front door, one hand caught under his against his chest, the other gripping his elbow as he threaded fingers through her wild hair.

She was staring at him, wide-eyed, open-lipped, the anger and confusion of a second ago fading behind something he never thought he’d see again. Not from her.

Yearning. It was the white flag to his broken and battered heart.

Jude lifted Eden’s head and opened his lips against hers.

There was nothing tentative about it.

Jude wanted to kiss the fuck out of her. Years and years of wanting boiled beneath his skin and had him shaking. He pressed against her, his weight bearing down so she couldn’t escape. So he wouldn’t collapse to the floor.

He reveled in the softness of her lips, full, just a hint of wetness where he traced is tongue along the seam. Jude’s lids closed, his eyes rolling back, her flavor so exquisite it was almost painful.

Eden gripped his elbow harder, her nails digging in.

Fuck. If she wanted him to stop, he would. God help him, he’d always stop, even if he wasn’t sure he’d survive.

But she wasn’t pushing him away. She was pulling him closer.

Eden whimpered into Jude’s mouth and traced his top teeth with her tongue.

Jude answered with a groan, long and low, shifting her face so he could access every inch of her willing mouth. So he could taste the woman he’d thought he’d die without ever having kissed.

He devoured her.

Jude’s lips pressed Eden’s wide, his tongue sliding in and out of her mouth in broad strokes. He trembled when she caught his tongue with her teeth, the small bite ricocheting down his spine to his increasingly hard cock.

Jude rocked into her and Eden’s mouth opened wider on a gasp.

He wanted so much from her, wanted to give her everything. But this wasn’t the time or the place. Eden was an escape artist. With just the slightest nudge she’d disappear. And asking too much too soon wasn’t a nudge. It was a plunge off a fucking mountain.

Jude forced himself to calm down. He pulled back just enough so he could open his eyes and look into hers. Their lips clinging together, Eden watched him from beneath thick eyelashes, the blue of her eyes hazy and unfocused. And warmer than he’d ever seen them.

“Jude,” she whispered his name. It died on his tongue as he kissed her again. More gentle than before, but no less sure.

He didn’t know why she was doing it, why Eden was letting him in. But the pounding of his heart was drowning out all of the questions and he fell into the rhythm they made. Lips open, together, tongues touching, retreating, breaths halting, melding.

The kiss felt endless. Perfect and forbidden. Jude traced his fingers beneath Eden’s jaw and pulled his other hand from between them so he could cradle her face between his palms.

He should stop and tell her he regretted everything that had happened all those years ago. Apologize for how he’d hurt her. For how he’d destroyed what should have been theirs. For how he’d never forgive himself for Noah. But Jude didn’t have the strength to stop. He had no hope of finding the words. So he told her with his lips and his touch and the beat of his blood beneath her hand.

He was shaking with it, everything he wanted to say but couldn’t. He was off balance. So was Eden.

She shuddered against the door, as if she’d gone cold, and dropped her hand from his elbow. It was quick, erratic, and Eden hit the small table next to them.

They both jumped when something fell and broke.

Breathing hard, Jude pulled back and looked down. He went still as Eden ducked out of his hands and picked the frame up off the floor.

Jude stared at the face that smiled from behind cracked glass.

“She’s beautiful,” Eden whispered and Jude closed his eyes, the pain in his chest a sharp echo of that in her voice.

“She is,” he whispered back. Eden glanced around, as if the woman in question might appear any second. “She isn’t here, Eden. She hasn’t been here for a long time.”

Eden set the picture back on the table, face up. “I shouldn’t have come.” Her eyes were hard again. Lightless and cold. “Everything about this was a mistake.”

Jude heard Noah’s paperwork crumple in her fist.

“Not everything,” he managed to say, voice flat. Please, please, not everything.

The look she gave him was as effective as pulling his heart right out of his chest.

“Reschedule the meeting with Wes. My lawyer can be here by morning.”

“Eden–”

“No,” she cut him off, the front door already open. “He was wrong, Jude. I can’t do this. He should have known I’d never be able to do this.”

She didn’t bother to say goodbye. The hard click of the door did it for her.

***

Readers were asked: Who convinces Eden to stop running & stay?

WES (Noah’s brother) ~ OR ~ EDEN’S MOM (Amy Ellis)

If you’d like to vote, please leave a comment below.

***

CHAPTER FIVE coming Thursday, October 26

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